Libertarian, Not Conservative

by Martín Saps

Made famous by his “Aleppo moments” and his playful demeanor, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson has become one of the most influential and talked-about figures in the 2016 election. Despite his slim chance of winning, Johnson, who proposes to abolish the IRS, legalize marijuana, and protect LGBT individuals from “religious freedom laws”, has the potential to cost Donald Trump the election.

Often seen as part of the Republican party, Libertarians like Johnson are often perceived as either looking for a way to justify keeping their wealth or radical confused college students looking for an ideology to champion. This is in part due to the fact that America’s most recent famous libertarians, Ron Paul and his son Rand, have not only been members of the Republican party but have been staunch supporters of many of the party’s core values such as loose gun restrictions, less financial regulation, lower taxes, and opposition to abortion.

At its core, Libertarianism is not about promoting Conservative values or about helping big business; it is a political philosophy that regards the minimalist state as the only form of government that does not infringe on individual freedoms.

Robert Nozick, perhaps the most influential libertarian philosopher of the 20th century, famously denounced taxation, claiming that it is an example of state overreach and a violation of property rights. He does not argue that people should not help those less fortunate; quite the opposite, he believes that people have a duty to give to charity. But Nozick claims that so long as the state extracts people’s justly earned possessions, that government directly violates people’s right to property.


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Nozick primarily writes in response to his liberal colleague John Rawls, who believed that since people’s earnings are a result of natural inequalities in the “birth lottery”, the state is justified in redistributing wealth as it sees fit. Nozick believes that natural advantages are irrelevant; all property rightly belongs to its owner so long as it was justly acquired. Thus, the only job of the state is to ensure that all property acquisitions are in fact just. Beyond that, any government attempt to redistribute justly-acquired property is theft.

While Gary Johnson does not advocate removing taxes altogether, his advocacy of eventually replacing income tax with a single consumption tax fits in with the libertarian disdain for income tax.

While formerly a Republican, Johnson’s positions are far from those of the Republican establishment, especially on social issues.

While the Republican establishment seeks to promote family values, Johnson believes that the state should have no role in guiding individual choices—an idea that fits with belief in the minimal state. While Johnson will almost surely lose the election, the fact that countless “never Trump” Republicans plan to vote for him reflects a misguided belief that Libertarian ideas are inherently Conservative; it reveals how Libertarianism’s key tenets and their philosophical justifications are misunderstood by people across the political spectrum.

Martín Saps is a Uruguayan-American studying Politics (with minors in History and Philosophy) at Bates College. He is a member of the Rugby and Debate Teams and hopes to pursue a career in in print media. He has published in both English and Spanish on topics ranging from the Islamic State’s presence in Bangladesh to Affirmative Action. He loves writing because it gives him the opportunity to share his perspective on politics, history, and current events with readers.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer. The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.

The image above was taken by Gage Skidmore and is under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license. It can be found here.

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